Exposed to COVID-19? What to do next

Spring is traditionally a season of new beginnings. With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations declining in parts of Washington, that new beginning feels closer than ever. Yet we must also remember that COVID-19 is still here.

There is still a very real possibility of being exposed to COVID-19 and/or getting infected. That possibility increases as some people return to the workplace, adjust to masking changes and other aspects of daily life resume. Taking the right steps after an exposure is still critical for keeping ourselves — and our vulnerable community members — protected.

Here’s what to do when someone you interact with closely tests positive for COVID-19.

Determining if you’ve been exposed

Maybe you’ve learned that a friend, family member, or coworker tested positive for COVID-19. If you can’t remember the latest recommendations, don’t worry. Just like earlier in the pandemic, the first step is to determine if you are a close contact.

To do that, you need to ask yourself two questions:

  • Was the person less than six feet away from you? Think about the time you spent with the person two days before they developed symptoms — or the date they tested positive if they do not have symptoms — until they started isolation.
  • Were you around the person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period?

If you answered yes to both questions, the CDC says you should consider yourself a close contact, regardless of whether the person was wearing a mask properly. Note that this guidance is for children and adults in indoor and outdoor settings (except for K-12 school settings).

If you answered no to either of the questions, then you are not considered a close contact. You should still monitor yourself for any symptoms; and you may still choose to get tested for added peace of mind.

Did you receive an exposure notification from WA Notify? Then you are considered a close contact. The app uses a tool that aligns with the CDC definition of a close contact so that it can alert you when you’ve been exposed.

When to test

If you’re considered a close contact, the next step is to plan for a test.

You should get tested immediately if you’re showing symptoms. If you’re not showing symptoms, wait five days after the exposure and then test.

The best test to take is the one that’s most readily available to you. So, if you have an at-home test, use that — and be sure to follow the at-home testing instructions. If you don’t have one, you can get tested at a testing location near you (only in English). Visit DOH’s Testing FAQ for more information and testing tips.

And remember, you never know when an exposure could happen — even if you’re following all the right protocols. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a few tests on hand. You can order two free testing kits per month from Say Yes! COVID Test (Washington’s program). You can also place a one-time order for four testing kits through CovidTests.gov (the federal program). Check back often because supply can change.

Good news — If you have health insurance, most insurers will now pay you back for up to eight at-⁠home tests per month (only in English), for each person on your plan.

When to isolate or quarantine

You may need to quarantine or isolate before taking your test and after receiving your results (even if they’re negative). This will depend on your vaccination status and whether you’re showing symptoms. The latest CDC guidance explains this by scenario. You can also follow our guide (only in English) for people who are symptomatic and/or exposed to COVID-19.

If you can’t find or don’t have access to a test, stay home and quarantine for 10 full days, and wear a mask when you are near others. If you can’t stay home (because, for example, your work requires a test result), then make sure to take other actions, like wearing a good mask all the time, and keeping six feet apart from others for 10 days.

Feeling sick? Stay home and isolate, away from others, including people you live with. This means everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

There is support available for people in isolation. Care Connect Washington is a program to provide food and other necessities to people who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed and need support to isolate or quarantine at home. If you need food or other assistance while you isolate, please call the state COVID-19 information hotline at 1–800–525–0127, then press #.

We’ve seen a steady decline in COVID-19 infections, and that’s worth celebrating. But we’re not finished with the pandemic yet! By taking proper steps after being exposed, we can keep moving toward that new beginning.

More Information

This blog is accurate as of the date of posting. Information changes rapidly, so check the state’s COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date info at coronavirus.wa.gov. You can also sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles.

The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone 5 and older. For more information about the vaccine, visit CovidVaccineWA.org and use the vaccine locator tool to find an appointment. The COVID-19 vaccine is provided at no cost to you.

WA Notify can alert you if you’ve been near another user who tested positive for COVID-19. Add WA Notify to your phone today: WANotify.org

Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington State may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.

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From the Washington State Department of Health

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Washington State Department of Health

Washington State Department of Health

Protecting and improving the health of people in Washington State.

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